Indo-Pacific Geopolitics Newsletter 08/14/2023

RADAR SWEEP Geopolitics Newsletter August 7 – 14 2023 China – ASEAN Week concluded in Fuzhou – Aug. 11 The


Geopolitics Newsletter August 7 – 14 2023

China – ASEAN Week concluded in Fuzhou – Aug. 11

The inaugural ASEAN-China Week concluded on 11 August in Fuzhou, China. The three-day event, sponsored by ASEAN, the ASEAN-China Center, and the Fuzhou municipal government, focused on deepening economic ties between China and Southeast Asia, implementing existing economic deals between China and ASEAN countries, and increasing regional peace and stability through intergovernmental cooperation. The summit and calls for regional peace come after years of disputes between China and four ASEAN members, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam, and the Philippines, regarding territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

Nevertheless, in recent years, China pursued increased engagement with ASEAN countries, particularly in defense and trade. In May, China and ASEAN agreed to advance negotiations over the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a rival to the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership. This was followed in July with an agreement between China and ASEAN to complete negotiations for a non-aggression pact for disputes in the South China Sea by 2026.

Such progress is unlikely to change the bloc’s overall position towards China, as ASEAN aims to assert its autonomy and influence in the region. To this end, ASEAN has avoided picking sides in the China-US rivalry, instead advocating for the interests of its members. The bloc’s response to AUKUS was relatively cold, and China’s Global Security Initiative is likely to receive a similar response, given the fact that ASEAN members oppose coercive tools or partisan policy initiatives.

The event likely facilitated back-channel diplomacy between top Chinese and ASEAN officials and increased the likelihood of successful economic and defense agreements between China and ASEAN countries in the coming months. If China-ASEAN Week becomes an annual event, its scope may expand to other areas of interest such as health and the environment. As China’s economic dominance in Asia starts to wane, and its increasing military capabilities are seen critically by ASEAN members, China might increasingly focus on such initiatives and take a more collaborative approach towards its neighbors in the region

However, deepening Chinese-Southeast Asia ties will likely increase tensions between some ASEAN members and the US. Some Southeast Asian diplomats have already opposed Beijing’s proposal for the future of China-ASEAN relations, as they see the US as serving a crucial role as a counterweight to Beijing. In response, Washington may increase engagement with ASEAN or other regional forums like the Quad in the coming years in order to counter Chinese influence in the region. It could focus on areas of economic development and human rights, and support ASEAN member’s calls for regional autonomy and peace.

China ASEAN week

The China- ASEAN Week hosted in Fuzhou concluded on Friday | Photo: China-ASEAN center


Thai ex-PM Thaksin remained in self-exile — Aug. 10 

Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra postponed the end of a self-imposed, 15-year exile that began following Thailand’s military coup in 2006. Thaksin faces what he describes as politically motivated charges from Thailand’s military government. While a reform-minded opposition coalition won elections earlier this year, the military establishment is impeding the bloc’s ability to take power through procedural tactics. Read more.

31st Malabar exercises began Aug. 11

The US, Japan, Australia, and India conducted military exercises aimed at improving logistical cooperation between the countries’ naval forces. They come amid a significant increase in defense spending by Japan and India and a growing sense of urgency to buffer against China’s growing influence over the Indo-Pacific. Read more.

Malaysia held state elections Aug. 12

Six Malaysian states held elections on Aug 12. The elections are widely seen as a referendum on incumbent Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s coalition government, led by Pakatan Harapan (PH). PH is widely expected to retain its state majorities, but the results could also highlight the complex racial dynamics in Malaysian politics. Read more.

Pakistan dissolved National Assembly ahead of elections Aug. 12

Pakistan dissolved its national assembly earlier than anticipated to prepare for elections in November, paving the way for a caretaker government. The move comes amid turmoil in the South Asian country, which faces a deepening economic crisis and political unrest following ex-Prime Minister Imran Khan’s ouster and arrest. Read more.

Japan and Australia Reciprocal Access came into force Aug. 13

A defense cooperation agreement signed between Japan and Australia came into effect, making it easier for both countries to share resources and conduct joint exercises. It also allows them to station troops on each other’s soil. Notably, it is the first pact of its kind that falls outside the longstanding US-led Status of Force. Read more

Politics and Society

Kenya government met with opposition Aug. 7

Amid protests over increased living costs and a recent tax hike, Kenya’s government met with the opposition party, Azimio la Umoja. While Azimio has stated that they are not seeking a power-sharing agreement, the talks may improve Azimio leader Raila Odinga’s reputation and favorability among Kenyan citizens. Read more 

Bulgarian parliament reconvened for an emergency session to reform the penal code Aug. 7

Following the attack of an 18-year-old woman, thousands have demonstrated against Bulgaria’s penal code and acts of violence against women. Increased pressure placed on the government to make amendments to the penal code and to ratify a human rights treaty on gender will likely be met by opposition from right-wing groups within the country. Read more

Former Kyrguz Natural Resource Minister remained in prison Aug. 9

Former Kyrgyz Natural Resource Minister Dinara Kutmanova, accused of corruption, remains in prison following an extension of her detainment until October. Incumbent President Sadyr Japarov has supported charges brought against Kutmanova, and recently has intensified power consolidation tactics, raising concerns of increasingly authoritarian measures.  Read more

Former South African President Zuma received a decision on prison sentence Aug. 10

South Africa’s Department of Correctional Facilities decided if former president Jacob Zuma will return to prison. The decision is expected to contribute to further unrest in the country as supporters protest. Zuma’s impending prison sentence may also create a deeper rift between the ruling African National Congress and the opposition Democratic Alliance. Read more

Temporary Danish border restrictions expired Aug. 10

Border security controls introduced by the Danish government expired today. The directive was implemented in response to security risks tied to demonstrations across the country where far-right activists burned several copies of the Quran. Border security measures are expected to be extended, to mitigate further demonstrations. Read more

Thai ex-PM Thaksin to remain in self-exile Aug. 10

Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra remains in exile. Thaksin was originally supposed to return to Thailand after 15 years in exile following Thailand’s military coup in 2006. Political instability is likely to ensue upon his return in a few weeks. Read more

Presidential election campaign season begins in Gabon Aug. 11

The presidential, legislative, and local campaign season began. Nineteen candidates are in the running for the presidency, including current President Ali Bongo who has ruled for nearly 14 years. Although Former Mines Minister Alexandre Barro Chambrier is Bongo’s main challenger, Bongo is expected to win the presidency. Read more

Malaysia holds state elections Aug. 12

Six Malaysian states headed to the polls, with around 9.7 million Malaysians casting their votes for 245 assembly seats. While the ruling Pakatan Harapan (PH) party is expected to maintain its existing majority, the conservative and neo-ethno nationalist opposition coalition Peritakan Nacional (PN) has made political inroads in PH strongholds. Read more

Nigeria Labor Congress strike called off Aug. 14

The Nigeria Labor Congress (NLC) called off a nationwide strike following major protests sparked by a hike in fuel prices. Fuel prices and other living costs have increased after newly-elected President Bola Tinubu removed fuel subsidies in a move that angered Nigerian citizens. However, the removal of subsidies is likely to save Nigeria billions of dollars. Read more

Colombian government, ELN peace talks expected in Venezuela Aug. 14

Representatives of the Colombian government met with counterparts from the National Liberation Army (ELN). While the peace talks are not likely to lead to a peace agreement, a sustained ceasefire will be a major political victory for Colombian President Gustavo Petro. Read more


Sri Lanka FM concluded Iran visit Aug. 7 

Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Ali Sabry concluded a three-day visit to Iran meant to deepen ties with one of its strongest allies. A crucial incentive was to shore up Sri Lanka’s economic interests in the face of a growing crisis caused by chronic economic mismanagement and the residual effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Read more

EU court deadline for Azerbaijan to provide info on Armenian Red Cross patient kidnapping passed Aug. 8

Amid growing tensions between the two Caucasus nations, the EU Court of Human Rights had given Azerbaijan until August 8 to provide information about Vagif Khachatryan, kidnapped by Azerbaijani border guards while being evacuated by the Red Cross to Armenia for medical treatment. As Khachatryan has not been released from Azerbaijan captivity, Armenia will likely leverage his disappearance to call for increased sanctions against Azerbaijan. Read more


Brazil to host Amazon Rainforest summit Aug. 7

Brazil hosted a two-day regional summit in Belem this week focused on protecting the Amazon Rainforest. The first summit of its kind in roughly 14 years, eight South American nations in attendance formally agreed to form an alliance combating deforestation, organized crime, and promoting sustainable development in the Amazon. However, no specific goal regarding bringing an end to deforestation was reached. Read more.

EU to release July climate change data Aug. 8

The EU’s Copernicus Program released its climate data for the month of July this past Tuesday. As expected, the data released confirmed that July 2023 was the hottest month ever recorded. With record-breaking heat waves scorching the northern hemisphere, wildfires in places like Greece and Canada, and the continued desertification of parts of the Sahel, there will likely be an added urgency at the UN’s upcoming Climate Ambition Summit on September 20. Read more.


Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation energy ministers to meet in Seattle Aug. 15

Energy ministers from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), a regional economic cooperation forum, will meet in Seattle, Washington to discuss advancing the transition to clean energy while maintaining economic growth in the Asia-Pacific region. This is the first energy ministers meeting in eight years. Read more [EXTERNAL]

General elections will be held in Ecuador Aug. 20

General elections will be held in Ecuador on 20 August to choose a new president and legislative assembly. The elections come following the recent assassination of presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio, an outspoken critic of corruption and rising criminal violence in the country. Read more [EXTERNAL]

15th BRICS leaders’ summit to begin in South Africa Aug. 22

South Africa will host the BRICS leaders’ summit from 22-24 August. The forum will bring together heads of state from Brazil, China, and India, as well as Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov. Both South Africa and Russia agreed to substitute Lavrov for Russian President Vladimir Putin to avoid an international crisis, as South Africa would be obliged to arrest the Russian president for war crimes as a member of the International Criminal Court. Read more [EXTERNAL]


Contributions by: Wescott Yeaw, Kyle Rose, Simran Sharma, Tudor Boanda, and Andrew Alipui